A wedding in the North African desert
The wartime wedding of Captain Thomas Blake and Connie Deane captured imaginations when it was reported in newspapers in late 1915. The ceremony took place at Zeitoun Camp, near Cairo, in full military style.
An unknown commitment
Weddings precipitated by the war were common during the First and Second World Wars. As men and women faced lengthy separations, those with emerging relationships often decided to marry quickly despite the unpalatable possibilities that might affect both of them in the future.
The heightened emotions of the time even saw rising numbers of couples who had met through letter writing or classified advertisements becoming engaged without ever having met.
A military wedding 'behind the lines'
But while the marriage of Captain Blake, veterinary officer to the Auckland Mounted Rifles (AMR), and Mabel Constance (Connie) Deane may have been quickly arranged it was not a marriage of acquaintances. The bride and groom were both from Nailsworth, Gloucestershire, where Blake had run a veterinary practice and dairy farm before coming to New Zealand in 1911 to join the Government meat inspection team.
The wedding took place at Zeitoun Camp, Egypt on Sunday 29 August 1915. The couple were married by Captain-Chaplain Macdonald of North Auckland.
According to the Auckland Star, the Blake-Deane nuptials were the first New Zealand wedding ever to be celebrated "in the lines while her troops have been on active service". The wedding took place under canvas in full military style.
Connie arrived at the camp three days before the wedding. It appears her parents may not have been able to make the date, so the bride was given away by Colonel C.E.R. Mackesy, Commanding Officer of the AMR. The couple passed under an arch of swords as they left the ceremony while the regimental band played Mendelssohn’s wedding march.
Reported in the press
The exotic and whimsical nature of the event captured imaginations and the wedding was widely reported in New Zealand newspapers, thanks to the reporting skills of one of Blake's 'brother officers' who sent details of the bridal outfit and bouquet and noted the special features of the occasion.
"Then photographs were taken, and bridal party and guests alike, formed sections and fell in at command. It must be remarked that as is usual in any military function everything was done 'on time' as far as possible." Dominion, 25 October 1915.
Mementoes of an Egyptian wedding
The photograph album with formal photos of the bridal party and candid shots of the married couple and their guests post-ceremony, along with the Egyptian-work brass table top presented as a gift by Captain Blake's brother officers, are part of a collection held by the Museum.
The objects reflect both Blake's war experience and his post-war civilian work with agricultural research. Blake was one of New Zealand's earliest artificial insemination pioneers. He started studying artificial insemination in 1935 while a government veterinarian based in Hamilton, and carried out most of the first early experiments.
Cite this article
A wedding in the North African desert. Auckland War Memorial Museum - Tāmaki Paenga Hira. First published: 20 April 2016. Updated: 28 June 2016.